Like the rest of our core classes, we must read two thousand pages of literature before entering the classroom later this summer. After buying a dozen or so of these "church growth" books (at least they were cheap; there are so many of them!), I gulped reluctantly and bit in.
I must confess that this is some of the most arduous reading I have ever done, not because it is too hard conceptually (the writing is actually quite fluffy and banal), but because of the severe beating my pride has taken. Where are the Puritans when I need them?
If most of these modern, cutting-edge experts are correct, I am doing practically everything wrong. In fact, I am hardly a "pastor" at all, by today's modern standards. Today's church leaders must be visionaries!
If my church is to grow--so say the gurus--I must do all of the following well:
- Enact a God-inspired "vision" for our church (read: be able to see the future and make it come to pass by an act of sheer willpower).
- Exude a dynamic, relevant presence in the pulpit that simultaneously inspires, convicts, inspires, leads, inspires, motivates, inspires, and rebukes--all winsomely!
- Launch self-replicating core groups led by omni-competent laypersons which will galvanize entire neighborhoods and suburbs with contagious Christianity.
- Transform the old, "institutional" congregation by instead inspiring a "Jesus movement" that defies all the normal laws of ecclesiastical physics (like budgets and parking).
You haven't started a movement yet? Are you even TRYING?
One bio boasts that this mega-pastor's mega-church's mega-ministry has already planted 100 other churches! In chapter five, he tells readers that his goal is to plant 1,000 churches in one year, maybe even 10,000! (No, I'm not kidding).
If he is to be believed, my home church's single, solitary church plant looks pretty pathetic by comparison.
At this point, someone will accuse me of being anti-evangelistic. I assure you that I am not. If there is something that my church can do to grow faster, reach more people, or win our neighborhood with the Gospel in a more biblical way, I am all ears. I do want to learn from these experts, even if that learning forces me to see my own weaknesses (which are many) or my church's own weaknesses (to which I am often blind).
But must every pastor be a "visionary"? Must every local church transform itself into a "movement"? Is that even possible? Where does the sovereignty of God fit in?
At some point, I must be content with what God has given me: real responsibility for a real family of about 400 souls in small-town Brooksville, Florida (population: 7,719). Even if every person in my entire city attended my church--which I doubt would even be healthy--I still wouldn't have a "movement" the size of most of the authors I am reading.
But is there really anything wrong with that? I don't think so.
Perhaps there is some "church growth" that cannot be measured with metrics. Perhaps some progress in the Kingdom is invisible to human eyes. Perhaps some of the most visionary leaders are those who don't write guru-books. They just preach the Bible week after week. Show up at hospitals. Baptize babies. Perform funerals. Love people. Treat their wife and children with compassion.
Maybe faithfulness is really greater than "success" after all. I hope so.
Because if success and faithfulness are the same thing, I'm not sure it's possible for me to be either.
--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith.